MELANIE BOLKE: WHY I CARRY A GUN AND PEPPER SPRAY
Melanie Bolke works for Shoot Like A Girl, an organization whose mission statement is to empower women in hunting and shooting industries. A typical Shoot Like a Girl event takes place inside a custom semi-tractor trailer mobile range where attendees gain experience in handling and shooting handguns (and long guns and even compound bows) through the use of state-of-the art technology simulators under the instruction of certified National Rifle Association firearms and archery instructors. I was pleased to discover that Shoot Like A Girl also has on hand an impressive variety of semi-automatic pistols and revolvers that have been rendered permanently incapable of being fired that attendees can handle and compare. One complaint that I have about many gun stores is that novice women frequently purchase handguns that are difficult to operate and/or shoot well due to a lack of knowledge or perhaps because of questionable advice given by a salesman. Either way, attending a Shoot Like A Girl event prior to purchasing a first handgun makes a lot of sense to me.
Melanie has a most interesting background. Prior to moving to Texas from Colorado, she owned a small ranch and raised German Short-Haired Pointers and was an upland bird guide. In addition, she became a taxidermist and owned her own studio. Upon moving to Dallas in 2017, she studied defensive shooting and became a NRA-certified Handgun Instructor, Range Safety Officer, and Chief Range Safety Officer. She is a regular at the Rangemaster Tactical Conferences, and it was at the 2021 Tactical Conference that I cornered and asked her if she would consent to an interview covering Pepper Spray (also referred to as “OC”, which is short for oleoresin capsicum) from the perspective of a female defensive firearms trainer who primarily teaches to women. As a male, it is relatively easy to carry, conceal, and even deploy defensive tools because all of my pants have belt loops and no less than four pockets. This is made easier because of my preferred belt, which is an EDC Foundation belt. Most women do not dress like that, the majority of which do not have much prior experience with firearms, and they are typically smaller in stature than the average male. My experience with Pepper Spray so far is that it is reasonably easy to carry for both men and women regardless of how they dress in public, and that stature has nothing to do with whether it works well or not if the recipient is sprayed directly in the eyes. Set out below are major takeaways from my interview with Melanie Bolke.
Steve: I believe that concealed carriers should always have a Less Lethal defensive tool like Pepper Spray on their person even when armed with a concealed handgun. Use of Pepper Spray is generally considered to be a Less Lethal use of force. What exactly does Less Lethal mean to you?
Melanie: Less Lethal by definition is any use of force other than Deadly Force that is used to control, restrain, or overcome the resistance of another person. In our case, Less Lethal Force would be used to resist the unwanted and possibly criminal physical actions of another person that are directed towards us. Like you said, Pepper Spray is considered to be a Less Lethal defensive tool.
Steve: Would you tell me why I should carry Pepper Spray?
Melanie: I can give you the top five reasons why you should carry Pepper Spray.
- It provides protection at a safer distance. It is a hands-off tool that requires no physical contact.
- It is practical. You can protect yourself against multiple threats, and not just people. It can be used to fend off dogs and even bears as they can fall under the category of being threats, also.
- It is both convenient and legal to carry in all 50 states and certain locations in those states where firearms carry is illegal.
- It does not require size and strength to use.
- It is effective. Law enforcement world-wide carry and routinely use Pepper Spray. Keep in mind that police officers are often required to actually arrest offenders and take them under control, while private citizens only need to make an attacker stop or leave.
Steve: How do I select the best brand and model of Pepper Spray for me?
Melanie: There are four factors to consider. One would be the active ingredient, and two would be canister content. The cannister should contain as much product as possible to allow you to test-fire the unit and stop multiple attackers if necessary. Number three would be the shelf life. There should be an expiration date on the cannister itself. And number four, there should be some type of safety mechanism so accidental discharges can be prevented.
I recommend Sabre products. They are a sponsor of Shoot Like A Girl and as a consumer I prefer to support sponsors that support me. They do make a lot of different products for a lot of different situations. They make a version with an adjustable hand strap which is great to carry while walking or jogging, they make one that goes on a keychain that has a snap-cap which is great for purse carry since the snap-cap is a safety that prevents accidental discharges, and it’s great for everyday carry. This version is a great gift for college students. Sabre also makes a Bear Spray version as well as a pistol-sized pepper-ball launcher that will shoot accurately up to 66 feet. Shoot Like A Girl has all of these Sabre Pepper Spray cannisters and launchers in their mobile range for the benefit of the attendees.
One major plus, as you know, is that carrying a firearm is a journey. I know that Tatiana Whitlock recently did an interview with you on the subject of Mindset. Part of a strong Mindset includes possessing multiple force options and having them with you. As we start down that journey one of the best Less Lethal options is Pepper Spray. It may take several weeks, months, or even years for some women to get comfortable with carrying a concealed handgun, but for anywhere from less than twenty dollars up to about three hundred and fifty dollars you can purchase Pepper Spray in the form of a small hand-held cannister up to a Sabre Pepper Ball Launcher that is as large as some handguns, quickly get some training, and start carrying almost from day one. This is especially true for women brand new to shooting who have children or other persons at home that they were concerned about when it comes to owning a defensive handgun.
Part Two of this article will address the last three questions that I directed at Melanie, which are how I would know when to use Pepper Spray, do I need training to use Pepper Spray properly, and where I would go to get that training.
Steve Moses has been a defensive firearms trainer for over 26 years and is a licensed Texas Personal Protection Officer with 7 years of experience performing as shift lead on a church security detail for a D/FW area metro-church. Steve is a co-owner and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group, LLC based in Dallas, Texas. Moses is a retired deputy constable and spent over 10 years on a multi-precinct Special Response Team. He owns multiple instructor certifications, including Rangemaster Advanced Handgun Instructor and Defensive Shotgun Instructor, Red Zone Knife Defense Instructor and Adaptive Striking Foundations Instructor, Modern Samurai Project Red Dot Sight Instructor, and State of Texas Personal Protection Officer Instructor. Steve holds a BJJ Brown Belt in Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu. He is a content contributor for CCW Safe and writes weekly articles on various subjects of interest to concealed carriers. Moses shoots competitively and holds an IDPA Expert rating. Steve is an annual presenter at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference.